ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — At the Ritenour School for Early Childhood Education, they always make time for story time.
And today, these young kids are getting a lesson in self-esteem.
"I hope that they begin to see themselves as valuable. That they matter," said Aja Owens.
Owens and Adrienne Draper are sisters and the day's guest readers. They're also the authors of the books they are reading.
They grew up in Jennings, and even when they had to stay put, it was reading and writing that took them places.
"Honestly, I started writing on anything," said Owens with a smile. "I mean, I would write on a napkin, a receipt, you know."
But as they got older, they started to think about the children's books they used to read. And even the ones with illustrations lacked people of color.
"We didn't really see a lot of characters that looked like us," Owens said. "And so it was important for us that as we're sharing these narratives and these stories and the illustrations to look like the kids that we either see or know or ourselves."
So, Owens and Draper started creating their own stories. Collectively, they've now published five children's books that reflect families and children of color.
"It's not just African American characters," Draper said. "It's Hispanic characters, it's Asian characters. We just want to make sure that, it's the same as what you see in your schools, in the community, in life."
During the pandemic, the sisters donated their books to some schools and one ended up in the hands of Ritenour Principal Jennifer Singleton.
"And I pull out this book and I wasn't familiar with it," Singleton recalled. "So I'm thumbing through it and I'm reading it, and the message is just like, it was so inspirational to me."
The name of that book, "Rock what you Got."
"It's starting that message very early that we are all unique," Owens explained. "As we grow, we're going to change but as we change we're still valuable."
When they're not writing, they're working.
Draper is an educator with the Pattonville School District and Owens is a community activist who is running for mayor of Jennings.
But the plan is for more books with the hope of passing their passion on to more kids.
"Learn to love words," Owens said. "Just value who you are."
Children's book authors Aja Owens and Adrienne Draper are writing new chapters on the importance of being different together.
"They're inspirational," said Singleton. "They're absolutely inspirational."
To learn more about Draper and Owens' books, click here.
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